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Nov 24, 2020

This year has seen many employees restructure their entire lives to cope with the global shift in work situations. Not only are people interacting in completely different ways, but just about everyone is struggling to keep a balance between work, family, productivity, and leisure. All while managing increased stress.

One way to keep employees engaged through all this is with mandatory paid time off (PTO). Here’s why and how we’ve implemented it at Honest Paws, the pet wellness company I co-founded.

The Value of Rest Days

At Honest Paws, we are total technology addicts, which has served us well during the pandemic. We use Slack for messaging, Zoom for calls, and Asana to organize and track tasks. While we haven’t had any issues staying connected and engaged, many of our team members are parents, so we thought about specific ways to support them during this time. 

One of the policies we have implemented is a flexible work schedule — team members can create their schedules so they can support their families or themselves as needed.

Still, even with a flexible vacation policy, we noticed that people weren’t taking time off. After all, no one was traveling during much of this year, so people felt like they didn’t have a proper reason to take a break. 

So to encourage self-care, we have implemented mandatory mental health days, which require employees to take two days off every month. Since this policy kicked in mid-May, we have noticed that our team is a lot happier and relaxed as a whole. 

Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that we also offer unlimited PTO. However, mandating monthly mental health days serves its own purpose — to give people the freedom and space to take care of and prioritize their mental health. While two days off a month naturally cannot solve underlying mental health problems, they can allow an individual to recharge by providing an opportunity to pause, relax, exercise, and return to their desk with revived energy and a renewed perspective on their workload. 

But Are Staff Members Actually Resting?

It’s impossible to know what people actually do during their days off. However, it’s widely understood that people do their best work when they prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional needs. That’s why we encourage staff to fully switch off when they’re on PTO. What’s more, team members respect every individual’s PTO and don’t intrude on their time off unless absolutely necessary. 

This team-wide understanding allows employees to fully put devices aside and mute work notifications, thus enabling people to turn their attention to personal needs. And the results speak for themselves. Employees return refreshed and ready to focus when they make the most of their time away from work

But Can You Force PTO?

Our desire is not to create a nanny workplace or force employees to do anything, even if it’s for their own wellbeing. We don’t issue penalties for staff who still work during their mandatory (or regular) PTO. Yes, we require people to take days off, but no, we don’t police what they do during that time. Ultimately, the mandatory PTO policy is about reminding everyone to take care of themselves and regularly prioritize their wellbeing.